Religion and governance: strange bedfellows #Vaw #womenrights


BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f3715 (Published 7 June 2013)

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3715
  1. Anita Jain, India editor, BMJ

Author Affiliations

  1. ajain@bmj.com

An unexpected turn of events saw a woman referred to as Beatriz get a life saving caesarean section, thanks to doctors in El Salvador who supported her cause, and a rousing international movement. She was earlier denied an abortion, it being criminalised in predominantly Catholic El Salvador, with the ensuing imprisonment of women and doctors (doi:10.1136/bmj.f3612). Timely intervention prevented Beatriz going the same way as Savita Halappanavar did a few months back in Ireland. Savita died after being denied an abortion on the grounds that “it [Ireland] is a Catholic country” (doi:10.1136/bmj.f2208). Her death and Beatriz’s struggle for life raise the question: Why does religion interfere?

A parallel conflict between religion and governance is taking place in the Philippines. At the Women Deliver conference I attended last week, it pained me to hear Filipino women with 16 and 22 children talk of how they were tired of having children, of having to provide for them under conditions of extreme poverty, and fearful of dying in the process of childbirth. Senator Pia Cayetano provided an inspirational narrative of having the reproductive health bill passed last year after five congresses and nearly 15 years. Recognised by President Aquino as a “matter of urgency,” the law marks a momentous achievement to make available free contraceptives, sex education, and comprehensive obstetric services (doi:10.1136/bmj.e8535). The struggle is not over however. With a largely Catholic, conservative, and patriarchal hierarchy, the constitutionality of this law has been challenged in the Supreme Court.

In a review of abortion policies worldwide, Sophie Arie reports a threat that countries may be headed towards being more restrictive (doi:10.1136/bmj.e8161). Closer to home, India may laud itself for a progressive abortion law but it continues to have one of the highest rates of unsafe abortions. Suchitra Dalvie, coordinator of the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership, shares grim statistics whereby, “every year about 11 million abortions take place [about 700 000 are reported] and around 20 000 women die due to abortion related complications.” Clearly the law has not translated into enabling physical, social, or financial access to these essential reproductive health services (doi:10.1136/bmj.f3159). Contrary to what may be expected, states are further imposing severe curbs on medical abortion pills (doi:10.1136/bmj.f1957). In the latest BMJ poll we look forward to hearing what you think of this.

Signifying a commitment to make comprehensive family planning services a reality globally, the London Summit on Family Planning (FP 2020) laid the ground for collaboration among donors and governments (doi:10.1136/bmj.e4160). At Women Deliver, Kavita Ramdas from the Ford Foundation emphasised, however, that “access to contraceptives” needs to be the message, and not just family planning. The importance of this is immediately evident in a similar conflict between the state and religion in Muslim dominated Indonesia where unmarried women are denied reproductive health services including contraception. Shereen El Feki, author of Sex and the Citadel, shared voices of young unmarried men and women from the Arab region who are “sexually active, but not sexually informed” as “marriage remains the only the only socially accepted context for sex—state-registered, family-approved, religiously-sanctioned.” The needs of this large and growing community of single men and women often tend to be neglected in the discourse on family planning.

Nozer Sheriar, secretary general of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), shared that, with an estimated 21.6 million women worldwide experiencing an unsafe abortion each year and with about 70 000 deaths, it is a silent tsunami knocking door to door. As symbolised by Salvadoran doctors who stood strongly behind Beatriz so she would not die giving birth, there is a role for healthcare providers to support women’s choice on this reproductive right that society is so reluctant to give.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3715

Footnotes

  • Follow Anita Jain on Twitter @ajain247

Immediate – Release – Malicious Campaign against Teesta Setlavad by the Newspaper’ The Pioneer “


25.10.2012

Press Release

 

CJP Rebuts Malicious Campaign by The Pioneer

 

The Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), a Mumbai based registered trust strongly rebuts the malicious campaign once again launched by the Pioneer a newspaper edited by Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Chandan Mitra. In a story laced with outright falsehoods the newspaper has alleged that the CJP has violated the law, namely the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

 

Since we work in the public domain we place the following facts for your information while emphasising that what the Pioneer  has been resorting to since 2010 constitutes unprofessional journalism: not once were we contacted before this or other stories was carried. In October 2010 we had through our lawyers issued a legal notice to the newspaper (pasted below) following a spate of articles which visibly toned down that newspaper’s coverage after the notice. This time too legal action will follow.

 

The CJP has not violated any law or rule and has collected donations for its primarily legal rights work from national and international sources through lawful means. The Pioneer deliberately picks out CJP’s Secretary Teesta Setalvad for its remarks on violations when it is not her but a Board of Trustees that have been functioning collectively and supporting this work. Teesta is deliberately being projected as recipient with malicious intent.

 

CJP provides legitimate legal aid to help victims of mass crimes to access justice, a Constitutional mandate supported by international human rights standards. Bringing perpetrators of violence to justice – is being deliberately dubbed as mala fide activity.

 

“Seeking donations in the name of helping riot victims” is a vague generalization. Different donors made contributions for specific purposes and not something as vague as “helping riot victims”.  The donations received by CJP were for two very specific objectives:

 

(1) Legal Aid to victims of the mass crimes: We emphatically state that the foreign contributions received by CJP for legal aid were accordingly earmarked and used for that very purpose.

 

(2) Aid for Two Ambulances for Mumbai City: In the wake of the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai, a need was felt for a citizens’ initiative to augment the existing ambulance service in Mumbai. This was in view of the fact that very many people who received bullet injuries at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus simply bled to death because they were not enough ambulances to rush the injured to hospitals. We again emphatically state that the foreign contributions received by CJP for legal aid were accordingly earmarked and used for that very purpose. Two ambulances purchased with such contributions have been in service in Mumbai since 2009. Donations from international music personalities and groups including Jethro Tull through his manager Ian Anderson, Naomi Campbell, Chatwals (through the IMG Lakme group) were received to run these two ambulances that even today run in Mumbai.

 

(3) The foreign contribution received from Ford Foundation was for “Peace building activities in Gujarat & Maharashtra”. We affirm that the money was earmarked and utilized accordingly.  It was a grant received for a period of 3 years, received in three annual instalments after submission and approval by Ford Foundation of annual narrative and financial reports.Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand are only two of the  6 trustees of Sabrang Trust.

 

Since 2010, the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (UNVFT) has been supporting our legal work and the amount received from them has been utilized for legal aid alone as per the itemized budget approved by UNVFVT (United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture). It is a matter of great pride for CJP that its legal efforts to bring justice to the victims of the communal carnage in Gujarat is supported by UN agency and administered by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva.

 

The CJP would like to emphasise that the accounts of both CJP and Sabrang Trust are audited annually within the stipulated time every financial year and the audited accounts along with the auditor’s report are submitted regularly in the prescribed format to the Income Tax Department, the Charity Commissioner’s Office and the FCRA department of the Union ministry of Home Affairs.

 

The CJP with its committed Board of Trustees consisting of IM Kadri (President), Nandan Maluste (Vice President), Arvind Krishnaswamy (Treasurer), Teesta Setalvad (Secretary), Cyrus Guzder (Trustee), Alyque Padamsee (Trustee), Anil Dharker (Trustee), Javed Akhtar (Trustee), Taizoon Khorakiwala (Trustee), Rahul Bose (Trustee), Javed Anand (Trustee), Gulam Pesh Imam (Trustee), Cedric Prakash (Trustee) stands by the work it has undertaken to ensure implementation of the rule of law through providing legal assistance to victims and witnesses of mass crimes.

 

Both the CJP and Sabrang Trusts are two separate entities. All expenses of both trusts are incurred after sanction is received from the Trustees.

 

From September 2010 right until when our lawyer Ms Aparna Bhat served a legal notice on The Pioneer  on October 23 2010, this newspaper has first indulged in pathetic, one-sided slander-mongering against Secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (Copy of Legal Notice pasted below) even going to the journalistically unprofessional levels of publishing Teesta Setalvad’s colour photograph on the editorial page, simply based on one-sided and vicious statements of a former employee who had been discontinued due to unprofessional activities on 18.1.2008. After the legal notice, some semblance at objectivity was pursued by the newspaper.

 

Now again on 25.10.2012, a series of falsehoods have been published by The Pioneer, with a deliberate and malicious intent. The CJP would like to state that The Pioneer is functioning like the cheap propaganda wing of the party in power in Gujarat and not a newspaper. The fact remains that CJP’s consistent legal aid to victims and witnesses has been one of the factors –along with the Supreme Court’s monitoring and witness protection — enabling them to depose in Courts against powerful accused. It is these vested interests supported by the powerful in the state which are, in a concerted fashion, launching this current malicious and ill-intentioned attack on CJP.

 

We would also like to point out that previously vicious allegations of “tutoring” by CJP have been unequivocally turned down and rejected by the trial courts in Gujarat (Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya cases-2011,2012), Best Bakery case (2006.2012) and SC Registrar General’s Report (2005). Despite this spokespersons and lawyers of the ruling party in Gujarat continue to spout falsehoods on television in the media. The Pioneer in general and through its article published today, is part of this pattern.

The persistent falsehoods against our organization despite this vindication in courts of law is a tactic and part of the vicious rumour-mongering that the political party responsible for the violence in the state of Gujarat and its parent organizations are well-known for. The motivations behind earlier campaigns by the Pioneer, edited by a man who is member of Parliament from the party that is in power in Gujarat, and other spokespersons are not simply to malign CJP—the real motive is to intimidate witnesses and even attempt to obstruct the course of public justice.

 

I.M. Kadri                                           Nandan Maluste                                Teesta Setalvad

(President)                                         (Vice President)                                 (Secretary)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Trustees:

Arvind Krishnaswamy                         Javed Akhtar              Cyrus Guzder                               

Alyque Padamsee                              Anil Dharker                Javed Anand

Rahul Bose                                         Cedric Prakash           Ghulam Pesh Imam

Taizoon Khorakiwala

 

 

 

 

Legal Notice Sent on 23.10.2010

23.10. 2010

 

Editor,

Pioneer

Chandan Mitra

 

Dear Sir,

 

I am retained by and act under instructions from the Citizens for Justice and Peace who has advised me that your newspaper Pioneer has been carrying a series of slanderous articles against them particularly targeting their Secretary, Ms.Teesta Setalvad.

My clients advise me that since the past two months especially, but even earlier, months on    6.9.2009,  7.9.2009, 8.9.2009. 10.9.2010, 12.9.2010, 22.09.2010, 18.10.2010 and 19.10.2010, 20.10.2010 and 22.10.2010 Days you have made allegations against the Secretary stating that she has influenced witnesses, altered their versions of their statements and is trying to mislead the course of justice. My clients advise me that these allegations are an utter distortion of the truth and slanderous, made with a political motive to protect those accused of heinous crimes in 2002. They advise me that since you belong to the same political party that is currently the ruling dispensation in Gujarat and which is being criminally investigated for conspiracy into mass murder etc. you have a vested interest in these slanderous and defamatory reports.

 

My clients further advise me that you are making these baseless allegations on the basis of alleged disclosure made to you by a former employee of my client without verifying the same from my client and not verifying the facts.  In your newspaper, you are also carrying the same allegations either attributed to this former employee, or some of the accused in the ongoing trials or the State of Gujarat itself.

 

My clients further advise me that the articles are being published at a time when the trials are in progress and eye witnesses are deposing, and moreover that a criminal investigation into the political dispensation in Gujarat is underway and is aimed at, if not likely to affect the course of justice and is a clear case of interference with the administration of justice.

In the circumstances you are hereby called upon to desist from carrying out these articles, which are clearly slanderous and defamatory in nature immediately failing which my clients would be forced to take appropriate legal action both criminal and civil as they may be advised.

 

I am sure that you would comply with the requisition contained herein and thus obviate the necessity of having to initiate any action against you.

 

Sincerely,

 

Aparna Bhat

 

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